The Aska clan lives and dies by a motto, a mantra, a prayer: Vegr yfir fjor. "Honor above life." In time immemorial, the Riki clan's god, Thora, "erupted from the mountain in fire and... flames." As her work burned down the mountain to the fjord where the Aska still live, Sigr, the god of the Aska, rose "up from the sea to protect his people." Since that first fight between fire and water, god and god, the Aska and the Riki have been "bound by [a] blood feud": every five years, the two clans meet in battle, fighting and killing to bring honor to their god and to assure themselves passage into the afterlife.
Eelyn and her best friend Mýra are formidable Aska fighters, trained from youth to be merciless killers in the name of their god and their honor. Though it is only their second fighting season, the two teens are so capable that they have earned a place at the front of the fighting line. Adrienne Young's Viking-inspired debut begins as the two fighting mates race eagerly into war, betting on who will kill more Riki. Early in the battle, though, Eelyn and Mýra are separated. Eelyn somehow finds herself weaponless, partner-less and defenseless in front of a Riki warrior. "I looked around us," she thinks, "something churning up inside of me that I rarely felt in a fight--panic." Knowing she is without options, Eelyn accepts her death: "I wasn't going to be brought down by a blade in my back.... I closed my eyes. I breathed. I could see the reflection of the gray sky on the fjord. The willow bloomed on the hillside."
Just as the Riki is about to go in for the kill, someone yells his name ("'Fiske! No!' ") and tackles him. Eelyn is confused--the tackler is a Riki. Why would a Riki want to save her life? Then her savior turns in her direction and Eelyn sees his face: "I was frozen. I was the ice on the river. The snow clinging onto the mountainside. 'Iri.' It was the ghost of a word on my breath."
Iri, Eelyn's older brother, was her first fighting mate. Five years ago, during her first fighting season, the two lost each other during battle. When Eelyn finally found her brother, it was just in time to watch him fall over the side of a cliff. She ran to the edge and saw "Iri's lifeless body at the bottom of the trench. Lying across the perfect white snow, blood seeping out around him in a melted pool," his organs slipping out of his body. She saw, too, that Iri was not alone in the trench--a Riki had plunged to his death along with Iri and also lay bloody and lifeless in the snow.
Like Eelyn's mother, killed in a brutal raid by a clan known as the Herja, Iri was supposed to be in Sólbjo̧rg, the final resting place of the Aska. And yet, Eelyn had seen Iri. When Eelyn tells her father and Mýra what she saw, they believe it to be a spiritual experience and a blessing--Sigr sent Iri's soul to save Eelyn from the Riki. But when the two clans again go to battle, Eelyn sees Iri once more. Determined to understand, she chases him until he and Fiske desperately confront her, begging her to leave them alone. When another Riki happens upon his fellow warriors speaking with an Aska fighter, Fiske and Iri have only two options: take Eelyn as a slave (dýr) or kill her. Iri won't kill his sister; Fiske can't bear to do something that would hurt his soul brother. Fiske knocks Eelyn out and takes her back to their village in the mountains.
Iri's new, adopted family--Fiske, his mother and his little brother--take Eelyn on as a dýr, though they are confused as to why Fiske is suddenly interested in keeping a clearly murderous Aska in their home. Surrounded by blood enemies and forced into servitude, Eelyn overflows with rage and feelings of betrayal. Her brother allowed her and their father to believe him dead for five years and his treason against Sigr is so vile, there is no way he'll be allowed into Sólbjo̧rg now. Further, being a dýr means Eelyn has lost her own chance to enter Sólbjo̧rg. Her heart is utterly broken knowing that she will never be reunited with her mother, never be honored by Sigr. It seems impossible there will ever be reason for Eelyn to forgive her brother's lie, to see Fiske and his family as anything other than blood enemies. But a more dangerous enemy lurks, growing ever more powerful. Soon, it will be up to Eelyn to save both the Aska and the Riki.
Eelyn is a superbly balanced young adult heroine. She is full of fire and rage, spite and hate, deliberate and calculated aggression and is focused entirely on her own survival and the well-being of the people she loves. She is a product of indoctrination so extensive, it is her very being. And she is also terrified, confused and painfully slow to catch on to seemingly obvious situations and ideas. She is an utterly perfect depiction of a teen who must bear an unbearable situation. Young's Sky in the Deep is full of bloody action and eternal feuds but it is Eelyn's halting, painful transformation and the tender depictions of loving human bonds in all their iterations that make this novel truly ond eldr: "breathe fire." --Siân Gaetano